Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Keeping Eye on the Donut, Not the Hole, Means Staying Focused on Mobility, Rail’s Chief Goal

As a long-time supporter of the grade-separated transit option, we’ve frequently mentioned “mobility” as the key to understanding why this mode is so important.

We’re not alone; for repeated references to mobility, skim through the City’s Alternatives Analysis for the current rail project. Yes, it’s a long document, but to truly appreciate how and why a fixed guideway completely separated from surface traffic was selected as the best alternative to improve mobility for Honolulu residents, it's worth a fast read.

Mobility shows up early and often:

“The purpose of the Honolulu High-Capacity Transit Corridor Project is to provide improved mobility for persons traveling in the highly congested east-west transportation corridor…. The project would provide faster, more reliable public transportation services in the corridor than those currently operating in mixed-flow traffic….”

The document notes something obvious to residents on the ewa end of the island: Mobility has been lost thanks to increasingly severe traffic congestion.

“The existing transportation infrastructure in the corridor…is overburdened handling current levels of travel demand…. Average weekday peak-period speeds on the H-1 Freeway are currently less than 20 mph in many places and will degrade even further by 2030….”

Why HOT Lanes Wouldn’t Help

The Alternatives Analysis addresses why the Managed Lanes option (the so-called HOT lanes), despite possibly improved transit travel times for some origins, “…would increase traffic on the overall roadway system and create more delay for buses.” Continuing:

“…the H-1 freeway leading up to the managed lanes is projected to become more congested when compared to the other alternatives, because cars accessing the managed lanes would increase traffic volumes in those areas. Additionally, significant congestion is anticipated to occur where the managed lanes connect to Nimitz Highway at Pacific Street near Downtown.

“Nimitz Highway is already projected to be over capacity at this point, and the addition of high volumes of traffic exiting and entering the managed lanes would create increased congestion and high levels of delay for all vehicles using the facility, including buses.”

Keeping in mind the overall goal of increasing corridor mobility for residents, it’s clear from the analysis that mobility – true freedom of movement – can be achieved only by traveling in a mode that is separated from surface traffic.

That’s what Honolulu’s fixed guideway project will do – deliver riders to their destination at a predictable time according to a time table, something cars can’t do no matter what lane they’re in.

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